Parashat Naso

Marriage Requires Constant Maintenance

It says in this week parsha “Speak to the Bnei Yisrael, and you shall say to them: A man or woman who sets himself apart by making a nazirite vow to abstain for the sake of Hashem.”

Who sets himself apart: Why is the section dealing with the Nazir juxtaposed to the section of the wayward wife? To tell us that whoever sees a Sotah in her disgrace should vow to abstain from wine, for it leads to adultery. [Sotah 2a]

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin in his Oznaim LaTorah asks why it was necessary to become a Nazir after witnessing the Sotah in her disgrace. If, as Rashi quoting the Gemara, wine can lead to adulterous behavior then it would be wise and careful to stay away from wine alone? Why the need to become a Nazir and forbid oneself from all grape products, not cutting one’s hair, and being careful not to become contaminated by a human corpse?

Interestingly, we find many parallels between a marital relationship and the laws of which a Nazir must stick to. The unraveling of a marriage typically doesn’t occur overnight but rather develops in a progression after months or years of neglect. The relationship between husband and wife must never reach the auto-pilot mode where the relationship remains in a slumbered state of no movement or renewal. Marriage requires constant maintenance with small gestures of kindness and thoughtfulness to counteract the decay that can root itself over time. Unlike a battery operated machine which once the batteries are replaced it can go unchecked until the next time the low battery alert beeps, marriage requires daily maintenance to operate properly as does any meaningful relationship.

The Nazir accepts it upon himself to become holy and separate himself for the sake of Hashem but simply separating from wine without the necessary preventive measures and boundaries to ensure success will likely result in failure. Therefore, the Torah prohibits all grape products as well as other boundaries to ensure holiness, designed to keep the nazir holy and from falling off course.

A nuclear energy site is equipped with extensive security measures and backup safety systems which provide layer upon layer of safety in the event of an emergency. Similarly, marriage too, needs to have a plan and one which is in place to guarantee that the relationship doesn’t become stale. Preventive measures in a relationship are the boundaries which need to be established so that the relationship is kept fresh and exciting. One who witnesses the degradation of the Sotah should separate himself from wine reminding him of the boundaries the Torah established for the Nazir which will inspire him to set his own boundaries and allow his marriage to flourish and thrive.

But what role do these boundaries play in a marriage and to what effect do they work to cultivate the relationship between husband and wife?

Perhaps the wine prohibited by the Nazir is symbolic of the building or dismantling of a relationship. It is the nature of wine to slowly intoxicate with every additional sip adding to the influence the alcohol will have on the one consuming it. A marriage too can be destroyed with the slow succession of disregard for a spouse, sip after sip, and then eventually too inebriated to repair months of neglect. The opposite is also true for the successful marriage which also develops in a progression, sip after sip. Great marriages aren’t developed overnight but require diligence and nurturing with careful planning and effort. A small thank you, a pleasant word, and a sign of affection will breed a healthy relationship and respect for one another. Thinking of one another in the midst of a hectic day with a short phone call or an unexpected gift to show appreciation for a spouse contributes to an entire life of happiness together. Witnessing the plight of the Sotah brings to mind the dangers of wine, both the “sip after sip” of neglect which can result in a failed marriage or the missed opportunities of taking the small sips or steps to enrich and enhance the closest human relationship possible between husband and wife.

Of course, all relationships in this world correspond to the essence of the holiest and deepest relationship which an individual can develop with Hashem. This too does not take effect instantaneously but needs to be nurtured and cared for with a genuine will which can then over time reach the highest levels of closeness with Hashem.

Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaKohen Kook offers a beautiful insight into peaceful relationships and the mechanism through which it can be achieved. We ask Hashem each night by Arvit, Spread over us the shelter(סוכת) of Your peace. What exactly is the connection between peace and a sukkah that we ask of Hashem to spread upon us His sukkah of peace? Rav Kook explains that there are well-known halachic principles that are applied to validate a sukkah which lacks the necessary three walls to be kosher. The same is true with peace which can be difficult to attain but is so precious that even if one cannot achieve complete peace he should strive for as much as possible. Even if the peace accomplished is at the level of a sukkah which may not be complete but still halachically valid given the halachic mechanisms that are put into place; that sort of peace is still admirable and worthwhile. It is the small gestures that will help us build and grow harmonious relationships while even if not under the most perfect circumstances it will be destined to succeed if there are active measures in place to help it blossom

; Source Torah V’nefesh

facts of life: take this serious

Showing Restraint

דבר‭ ‬אל‭ ‬בני‭ ‬ישראל‭ ‬ואמרת‭ ‬אלהם‭ ‬איש‭ ‬או‭ ‬אשה‭ ‬כי‭ ‬יפלא‭ ‬לנדר‭ ‬נדר‭ ‬נזיר‭ ‬להזיר‭ ‬להשם

“Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: A man or woman who shall dissociate himself by taking a Nazarite vow of abstinence for the sake of G-d.” (Bamidbar 6:2)

The Torah details here the laws pertaining to a nazir, one who takes a vow to abstain from wine.  While the rules regarding what a nazir can or cannot do are straightforward, the Talmud’s perspective of the nazir’s virtue is not as clear.  One opinion in the Talmud (Taanit 11a) maintains that a nazir is deemed to be a sinner, while a dissenting opinion considers the nazir a “kadosh,” a holy person.  How can the nazir represent such dissimilar ideas?

Rabbi Aaron from Belz (1880-1957) led a severe life, surviving on the bare minimum of food and drink and preoccupying himself with Torah study and intense prayer.  As a child, the Rebbe of Belz was attended to by a man who pleaded with and persuaded him to eat more. Much to the attendant’s disappointment, the young Aaron routinely refused these overtures.  One day, however, Aaron asked the attendant for a large piece of cake and a hot cup of coffee.  “Remember,” he said, “to please make sure that the coffee is steaming hot.”  The attendant was overjoyed, and eagerly carried out the future Rebbe’s wishes.  Much to the attendant’s shock however, Aaron quickly handed the cake and hot coffee to a man in the synagogue.  Aaron explained that earlier that day, he overheard the man pining for a delicious piece of cake and a hot steaming cup of coffee.  How can he ignore the plea of a Jew?

In his commentary to the Torah, Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin writes that there is certainly a positive aspect to being a nazir, but that it is not for everyone. Abstaining from the pleasures that G-d intended for us to enjoy is, in a sense, sinful for the average person.  A truly holy person however, can handle separating himself from this world while staying connected to his fellow Jews.  He may choose to temporarily deprive himself from some of life’s pleasures, but does not detach himself or expect to impose his personal choice on others.  On the contrary, a holy person is someone who is truly aware of other people’s needs.

The festival of Shavuot commemorates the receiving of the Torah.  Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, author of the classic halachic work Aruch Hashulchan (1829-1908), writes that the festival of Shavuot is referred to in the Torah as “atzeret,” restraint, because the Jewish people were instructed to abstain from physical indulgence prior to receiving the Torah.  Surprisingly, the Talmud tells us that one should consume delicacies on Shavuot – the very same holiday whose name represents restraint from physical pleasures!

Our sages tell us that when the Jewish nation stood at Mount Sinai, we were united as one nation with one heart. The message here seems to be the same.  As we strive to achieve greater higher spiritual heights, we must always remember our fellow Jews’ need for that piece of cake and hot cup of coffee.


something to think about

Three Dreams Of Peace

The last words of Birchat Kohanim are “V’Yaseim Lecha Sholom”.  The Medrash says, “Sholom B’Knisatech, Sholom B’Yitziatech, Sholom Im Kol Adam,” peace in your coming, your going, and peace with every man.

The Iturei Torah brings the Ktav Sofer who explains this Medrash.  The Gemara in Brachot (59) tells us the interpretation of many different dreams.  Among these dreams, three of them tell of peace; the kettle, the river, and the bird.  The Ktav Sofer says that these represent three different kinds of peace.  The kettle represents peace in your home, where all the household members use the same kettle.  The river means peace in your country, where all the citizens share the water and benefits of the country’s river.  The bird symbolizes world peace, like a bird who is not limited to any specific local and can fly wherever its wings take it.

When Hashem gives us a bracha of peace it is all encompassing.  The Medrash says, “Sholom B’Knisatech,” you will have peace in your coming, meaning within the confines of your home.  “Sholom B’Yitziatech,” peace when you go outside and interact with your countrymen.  “Sholom Im Kol Adam,” no matter where and no matter with whom, peace will reign supreme!

simcha corner

Jack Sapperstein had three young boys and was looking after them while his wife was away.

One summer evening, they were all playing cops and robbers in the back yard after dinner.

One of the boys “shot” his father and yelled, “Bang! You’re dead!”

Jack slumped to the ground and when he didn’t get up right away, a neighbor ran over to see if he had been hurt in the fall.

When the neighbor bent over, Jack opened one eye and said, “Shhh. Give me two more minutes. It’s the only chance I’ve had to rest all day.”

Parsha Summary 

First aliya: G‑d informs Moshe of the Tabernacle duties of the Levite families of Gershon and Merari. When the Jewish people journeyed, the Gershon family transported the Tabernacle tapestries, veils and coverings, while the Merari family carried its structural components, such as the beams, boards and pillars. A final count is given of the Levite Kehot family — those between the ages of thirty and fifty, as per G‑d’s command mentioned towards the end of last week’s reading: 2,750.

Second Aliyah: The total for the Gershon family: 2,630. The Merari family: 3,200. Thus the grand total of Levites eligible to transport the Tabernacle and its vessels: 8,580.

Third Aliyah: Now that G‑d’s presence graces the Tabernacle, G‑d instructs the Jewish people to banish certain ritually impure individuals from their encampments. Most of them were only barred from entering the Tabernacle area and its immediate environs. Only one who suffered from tzara’at(“leprosy”) was sent out of the general encampment. This section then discusses the restitution and Temple sacrifice required of one who robs his fellow and then falsely swears to maintain his innocence. If one robs a convert who then dies without leaving any heirs, the restitution is made to a priest. Also included in this section is the mitzvah to verbally confess one’s sins, and a person’s right to select a priest of his liking to whom to give the various required priestly gifts.

Fourth Aliyah: This rather lengthy section contains three concepts: 1) The ceremony for the sotah, a suspected adulteress who was witnessed going into seclusion with another man–despite being warned not to associate with that individual. The woman is brought to the Temple. This section of the torah is written on parchment and then soaked in water until the ink dissolves. The woman drinks the water. If she indeed willingly committed adultery, her belly miraculously swells and she dies a gruesome death. If she is unharmed by the waters, she is cleared of any suspicion. 2) The laws of the individual who vows to be a Nazirite. Such a person must abstain from wine and grape products, allow his/her hair to grow, and may not come in contact with a human corpse. At the conclusion of the term of the vow, the Nazirite brings certain offerings in the Temple. 3) The priestly blessings.

Fifth Aliyah: On the day when the Tabernacle was inaugurated, the tribal leaders wished to bring inauguration gifts. Collectively they brought six covered wagons and twelve oxen to assist in transporting the Tabernacle when the Jews traveled. In addition, as representative of their respective tribes, they wished to offer individual gifts and offering. G‑d instructed Moshe to accept these gifts, and that on each the following twelve days one of the leaders should bring his individual gifts. Although each leader brought identical gifts, the Torah describes each one individually.

Sixth Aliyah: This section continues the descriptions of the tribal leaders’ gifts.

Seventh Aliyah: The gifts of all the leaders are added up and the totals given. The last verse describes how G‑d would talk to Moshe, His voice emanating from between the two Cherubs atop the Holy Ark.